Published January 11, 2008
Animal rights group PETA has asked the jail housing a man accused of murdering his girlfriend and possibly eating her body parts not to feed him meat, the activist organization told FOXNews.com.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals faxed a letter Thursday to the Smith County Sheriff's Jail in Tyler, Texas, asking that 25-year-old Christopher Lee McCuin be placed on a strict vegetarian diet to prevent him from being "involved in any senseless killing" while he's behind bars, said PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich.
"Only in a culture where people routinely kill and eat living, feeling beings — corpses — would anybody think to kill and either eat or pretend to eat a human corpse," Friedrich said in a phone interview.
Sheriff J.B. Smith was shocked and amused by the request from Friedrich and said he learned of the letter from the local news media, including The Tyler Morning Telegraph, before actually receiving a copy at his office.
"I thought it was a joke," Smith told FOXNews.com. "I've been sheriff here for almost 30 years. I've seen a lot of things. This pretty much takes the cake."
McCuin is in prison for the killing of Jana Shearer, 21, and for suspected cannibalism.
When McCuin was arrested Jan. 5, confirmed Smith, there was a plate of what appeared to be human flesh and a fork on his kitchen table, as well as an ear boiling in water on the stove.
But the east Texas sheriff said he has no intention of changing the menu for McCuin or any other prisoner. The diet is turkey-based to cut down on costs, according to Smith.
"This is a jailhouse, not a hotel that takes requests for meals," he said, characterizing the PETA letter as a ploy to get publicity — and a successful one at that.
The Smith County Jail houses about 750 prisoners and serves them three meals a day, amounting to about 2,000 meals daily, according to the sheriff. The menu meets nutritional and calorie requirements established by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, he said.
PETA believes the prison should go a step further.
"It is up to you to prevent McCuin from contributing to any more suffering and death by placing him on a healthy, humane vegetarian diet," Friedrich wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by FOXNews.com.
Friedrich admitted that there is a distinction to be made between eating a human being and eating an animal, but said there are parallels too.
"Of course it's different, but there are similarities," he said. "If someone is horrified by the idea of eating a human corpse, then it's worth asking why we consider it acceptable to eat a chicken's or a pig's or any animal's corpse. Flesh is flesh."
Smith said McCuin will be fed the same meals — meat and all — as every other prisoner, because it would be against the law to treat him differently.
But PETA wants all the prisoners to be given vegetarian meals.
"Eating meat supports cruelty to animals that would be felony level if these were dogs or cats," contended Friedrich. "It's easy when tragedy strikes to be angry or sad or confused, but we should all challenge ourselves and ask what we could be doing that could be kinder."
Smith said the only time he honors special food requests is when the prison's in-house physician tells him to for health reasons. The meals generally include rice, noodles or vegetables in addition to the turkey, according to the sheriff.
"If they don't want to eat it, they can put it aside," he said. "And if they don't like the food here, then don't come back."
So far, PETA hasn't gotten an answer from the jail, according to Friedrich, who said that PETA jumps on every opportunity it finds to promote vegetarianism because animals have the same needs, desires and senses that people do.
"They value companionship, they dream, they play," he said. "They have the same core feelings that human beings do."
It is the third time the animal rights group, known for its attention-getting stunts to push its causes, has sent a letter to a jail requesting that an inmate be placed on a vegetarian diet.
PETA asked a British Columbia prison warden that Canadian murderer Robert Pickton — a pig farmer convicted of killing several people and selling some of his victims' body parts to customers who thought they were buying pork — be given vegetarian meals, according to Friedrich.
The point in the group's involvement in that case, as in this one, was to draw attention to the similarities as PETA sees them between eating humans and eating animals, he said.
The first instance was personal for Friedrich, an Oklahoma native: He wrote to the jail where convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who has since been executed, was incarcerated to demand that he be served vegetarian meals while he was on death row.
The jails in the other two cases also declined to comply.
Smith said that in the case of his prison, the reason is simple: If he granted a wish to one organization, the situation would snowball.
"If I take a special request from any organization, then I have to start taking special requests for every prisoner," the sheriff said.
PETA also weighed in on the infamous 1980s-era Jeffrey Dahmer case. Dahmer was a serial killer who dismembered his victims and kept some of their remains in his refrigerator.
"We did something drawing attention to the fact that Dahmer had corpses in his fridge, and most people also have corpses in their fridges," said Friedrich.
In the future, the advocacy organization plans to send letters to prisons in all cases it learns of involving cannibalism.
Friedrich admitted the tactic is used to get press, but he phrased it a little differently.
"The goal is to raise the consciousness of the public that eating meat is cruel," he said.